More than any of the actors who gained fame as a member of the storied “Star Trek: The Next Generation” ensemble, Wil Wheaton has always been known as the geek made good. And he’s the first one to admit -- no, scratch that -- to embrace it.
Last weekend, Wheaton brought his combination of exuberant goofiness and self- deprecation to his first onstage appearance at the Emerald City ComiCon. A packed and very enthusiastic audience sat at attention for over seventy minutes as the erstwhile Wesley Crusher read from his numerous books and cemented his reutation as just one of the (fan)guys.
Largely unchanged from his “Trek” days (scruffy beard and Batman t-shirt notwithstanding), the actor-author drew most of his reading from “The Happiest Days of our Lives,” a collection of reminiscences partly repurposed from entries on is popular blog. Wheaton opened the panel with “Beyond the Rim of the Starlight,” relating his history as a guest at science fiction conventions, then interwove his birds’ eye view of con guest duty with his own experiences as a fan.
Wheaton wended his way through the ignoble saga of his first “Star Trek” convention appearance at age fourteen (for a less-than-princely $100 paycheck!) with the kind of wide-eyed joy that only a dyed-in-the-wool geek can muster, and when he finished reading that initial excerpt, the audience was effectively eating out of the actor’s hand.
But what made Wil Wheaton’s Saturday panel appearance worth hearing to the end wasn’t his subject matter (he was definitely preaching to the choir on that front), but rather his eye for telling details and a refreshing streak of self-deprecating humor. Both of those traits came to the fore as he read “Blue Light Special,” the story of a childhood visit to K-Mart in search of that Generation X geek totem, a “Star Wars” figure. Again, the topic wasn’t exactly revelatory, but Wheaton’s animated delivery -- and most importantly, his ability as a writer to tap into his childhood feelings with vivid directness -- clinched it.
The little touches to his story -- his whining younger brother’s fixation on a flimsy balsa-wood airplane, his utter befuddlement at the arcane ritual that is the disappearance of his mother and sister to a different corner of the store -- really sang. And his moral kiosk over which action figure to select (“Lando Calrissian? He was a dick in the movie. There’s no way I’m getting him.”), especially in light of the absence of a cherished Chewbacca, elicited sympathetic groans and chuckles from the audience.
Over an hour into his panel debut, Wheaton finished up with a story about his humiliating summit meeting with William Shatner on the set of “Star Trek V.” It happened one day between scenes on “TNG,” when an awestruck, adolescent Wil walked over to the nearby film set, and a still photographer/mutual acquaintance introduced them. Shatner, busy directing the fifth “Trek” big-screen epic, had no patience for the awkward young fan, making fun of the boy’s “Next Generation” uniform and derisively telling Wheaton, “I would never let a kid come onto my bridge,” before leaving abruptly. TV’s Wesley Crusher came away from his encounter with one of his idols crushed (pardon the pun).
At the podium, the now thirty-something father related every excruciating moment of his boyhood encounter vividly. And while one could argue over Wheaton’s take on the event, it pointed out the “Next Gen” star’s unique connection with fellow “Star Trek” fans. He’s evolved into quite the representative for fellow geeks, serving as a sort of bridge between fan and celebrity, and his ability to spin a yarn served him in good stead. Wil Wheaton may be (as one of his book titles announces) just a geek, but he knows how to get his geek on with flair.
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